by Leah Jackson

Northwestern State University was one of five organizations to be awarded a grant from The Rapides Foundation to address shortages in the Central Louisiana healthcare workforce by developing an ongoing pool of K-12 students who are interested in pursuing healthcare careers and are academically prepared to succeed in postsecondary training programs.

The Future of HealthC.A.R.E. (Career, Academic Readiness and Exploration for Students) Program grants totaling $4,450,025 went to NSU, along with Catahoula Parish School Board, The Central Louisiana Area Health Education Center, Louisiana State University of Alexandria and Louisiana Central.

The Future of HealthC.A.R.E. grant is offered under the Foundation’s Healthcare Access Initiative and complements the Foundation’s Healthcare Occupations Program, which was created in 2016 and funds projects at the postsecondary level.

The Foundation launched the Future of HealthC.A.R.E. grant in 2022 to target students in grades K-12 within the Foundation’s nine-parish service area. Grants were awarded in September. Grantees started a planning period on November 1 with implementation beginning in June 2023.

“Shortages in the healthcare workforce have been a critical issue for many years in our region,” said Joe Rosier, President and CEO of The Rapides Foundation. “The Foundation’s Healthcare Occupations Program addresses this issue through grants at the postsecondary level to increase the number of graduates entering the workforce. New projects under the Future of HealthC.A.R.E. grant will provide an avenue for students to learn about healthcare occupations at an earlier age, to prepare them for the academic rigors of healthcare training programs, and to build technical skills needed to pursue healthcare careers.”

NSU received a $1,166,525 grant for a five-year Healthcare Academic & Career Exploration (Healthcare ACE) project, a no-cost program intended to increase high school students’ awareness and preparation for healthcare careers and academic programs. The project focuses on all nine parishes within The Rapides Foundation Service Area. High schools can partner with Healthcare ACE by identifying students interested in learning and working in healthcare fields. College faculty and students will lead high school students through a one-day series of hands-on learning workshops that will increase student awareness of healthcare careers and the necessary steps for entry into the fields of Nursing & Allied Health, Psychology, Addiction Studies and Social Work.

Writing the grant was a collaboration between several academic programs at Northwestern.  Steve Gruesbeck, director of Service-Learning and faculty member in the Department of Psychology, will serve as executive director of the project and Trinity Butcher as assistant to the executive director.  The two have worked together on similar youth outreach efforts that prepare high school students for success in the areas of science, technology, engineering, the arts and math (STEAM). 

“For this project, the HealthC.A.R.E. ACE team will consist of college faculty from NSU’s Nursing and Allied Health, Psychology, Addiction Studies and Social Work,” Gruesbeck said. “They will lead interactive workshops that illustrate what it’s like to learn and work in healthcare fields. Our project will be enhanced through the incorporation of healthcare faculty members from technical community college and university programs also within The Rapides Foundation’s Service Area.”

Collectively, the team will be trained and equipped to engage students in hands-on learning activities and will conduct one-day workshops throughout the nine-parish service area.

“These experiential learning workshops will showcase healthcare workforce jobs in high demand and the educational pathways available to our region’s high school students,” Gruesbeck said. “The focus will include two-year and four-year programs as well as accelerated coursework, training and certification programs that students can complete during or immediately after high school. We will help students understand the variety of ways and different levels of education needed to join the healthcare workforce.  Our region’s universities and technical community colleges offer students a wide variety of educational programming, each requiring different amounts of time for completion. The HealthC.A.R.E. ACE project is proud to do its part to help raise student awareness of and preparation for successful entry into the healthcare field at whichever level the graduate chooses.”

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